CSU, Fort Collins community honors legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.

CSU and Fort Collins community members marched from Old Town Square to the Lory Student Center on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Photos by William A. Cotton

Hundreds of Colorado State University and Fort Collins community members took part in the annual march and celebration honoring the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., with a call by speakers to be courageous.

The 1.2-mile march on Jan. 20 began in Old Town Square, with march leaders guiding participants south on College Avenue toward the CSU campus for a celebration at the Lory Student Center. The celebration featured a talk by the president and CEO of the Urban Leadership Foundation of Colorado.

Malik Burton, a second-year graduate student in the Student Affairs in Higher Education Program at CSU, led the march with a charge and challenge to the community around the theme of “Preservation to Manifestation.”

Referencing injustices across race, gender and sexual orientation that made local and national headlines, Burton prescribed the importance of rest in social activism. He explained that rest allows activists to preserve themselves so they can have the power to manifest their social justice dreams.

“I am not worried about you continuing the work of combating injustices in society,” Burton said. “I am not worried about your commitment to educating those around you on topics of social justice and equity. I am worried — I repeat, I am worried — that you will forget about the healing power of rest.”

Following the charge, Adrian Jones, student development and retention coordinator of CSU’s Black/African American Cultural Center who played a key role in organizing the march, sang “We Shall Overcome” before the march started.

Celebration at Lory Student Center

2020 CSU MLK March Ryan E. Ross

Ryan E. Ross gives the keynote presentation at the Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration at the Lory Student Center.

Ryan E. Ross, president and CEO of the Urban Leadership Foundation of Colorado, kicked off his keynote with an introduction by his 10-year-old son Gavin who performed a hip-hop song with the hook “Get Stirred Up.”

The rap set the tone for Ross’ talk, which encouraged attendees to find their inner Martin Luther King Jr. and stand up for change. He started his keynote by looking back at King’s life and legacy — in particular, his time in Colorado in the 1960s.

“Notice that I said Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; I didn’t say MLK,” Ross said. “You see: If there’s one thing that you get from me today, it’s I want you to put some respect on his name. He, nor any of his accomplishments, should never be belittled to that of an acronym. As adults, we have to carry on the true legacy and the true truth of Dr. King Jr.”

Ross recalled his own experiences in Denver marching on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. He recounted the 1992 march when he was 10 years old, which was disrupted by members of the Ku Klux Klan.

2020 CSU MLK March Gavin Ross
2020 CSU MLK March

Gavin Ross, the 10-year-old son of keynote speaker Ryan E. Ross, performs an original hip-hop song to introduce his father. Recent CSU graduate Xavier Hadley performs his poem, The Incredible Ferrari Boat Mobile.

Ross went on in his adult life to become an educator, speaker and actualization coach, who serves as the associate vice chancellor for student affairs, equity and inclusion for the Colorado Community College System.

During his talk, Ross built upon the “Preservation to Manifestation” theme, noting that it’s time to move beyond resting on the laurels of the Civil Rights moments of the ’60s.

“We can’t keep saying that one day, ‘We Shall Overcome.’ I’m tired of that song,” he said. “It’s time to do more than know what’s right and hope for what needs to happen. It’s time to manifest the hell out of equity, justice and the real pursuit of happiness.”

Also at the celebration, recent CSU graduate Xavier Hadley performed his poem, The Incredible Ferrari Boat Mobile. The poem, which reimagines the fates of captured Africans who were thrown overboard during the Middle Passage to the Americas, was the winner of the 2019 spoken-word competition sponsored by the B/AACC.

The celebration included a welcome from CSU President Joyce McConnell as well as a showing of the university’s new Land Acknowledgement video, which respects the ties of Indigenous people to the land on which the University operates.

“Just as Dr. King wanted to move us forward, I know that that’s what we all want to do today,” she said. “And that our march really is symbolic of that forward movement together.”

Student service project 

In partnership with Homeward Alliance, the Black/African American Cultural Center also hosted a community service component to kick off the observance at the Lory Student Center.

More than 100 volunteers packed 300 care packages with travel-size toiletries for people experiencing homelessness.

Homeward Alliance is a Fort Collins-based nonprofit that provides service to those experiencing homelessness through programs and initiatives ranging from critical survival gear to employment services.